On Monday evening, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities culminated in Kemper Auditorium with a Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar presentation by Alexis Lefft ’16, titled “The Predominantly White Institution and Its Role in the Identity Formation of African-American Students.”
After giving a tour to a prospective African-American student and family one day, Lefft, who is the Barbara Landis Chase CAMD Scholar, realized that she had omitted much of the unpleasantness of her experiences as an African-American student. Lefft ended the tour wanting to further analyze the reality of being a racial minority at predominantly and historically white institutions. “When these prospective students asked me what it’s like to be a black student here, whether implicitly or explicitly, I managed to conveniently avoid the question… because I knew what types of rhetoric were associated with black students who suggested that their experiences at predominantly white institutions were a little less than what an admissions brochure might suggest,” said Lefft during her presentation.
“The predominantly white campus continues to be fraught with markers of racial inclusion and exclusion, which often go unnoticed by members of the dominant culture and sometimes by black students themselves. This hidden dimension of racialized violation is all the more insidious precisely because we do not recognize it as such,” said Lefft.
Lefft drew from her own experiences while working on the project. She credits her past experiences before and during her time at Andover as the reason she sought this opportunity as a CAMD Scholar.
“Where I came from in South Carolina, it was mostly middle-income, conservative white people. When I got here, I thought this experience would be similar or at least wouldn’t be drastically different because, again, I’d already gone to predominantly white schools. But really, it was more like I felt affected by whiteness in a different way here, at a school with so much history and especially with people with more money,” said Lefft in an interview with The Phillipian.
To help audience members get a better idea of African-American students’ experiences, Lefft’s presentation concluded with a panel of four African-American students: Avery Jonas ’16, Dakoury Godo-Solo ’17, Madison Pettaway ’17 and Justice Robinson ’18. These students were given the opportunity to speak on their experiences both before and during their time at Andover, as well as to answer questions from audience members.
“I talked about being a day student. I was the only black day student on the panel. We’re kind of a rare breed. We live in a somewhat awkward position, because people will be like ‘Are you from New York?’ and I’ll be like, ‘Actually I live here. I’ve lived here my whole life,’ ” said Godo-Solo. “It’s always an interesting conundrum because it’s like, what does blackness mean when you grew up in a community of white people, around white people [and] went to school with white people?”
Lefft chose Onaje Woodbine, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, as her faculty advisor for the project. Woodbine and Lefft worked closely, keeping in contact throughout the summer to put together her research paper and presentation.
In an email sent to The Phillipian, Woodbine wrote, “My favorite part of the project was getting to know Alexis, the human being. There is no greater gift for a teacher than to be taught by one of his or her students. Alexis certainly has taught me a great deal.”
Lefft was glad she was able to reflect on her experiences as an African-American student at Andover and that she could share the stories of other African-American students and how their experiences intersect with different facets of their identities.
Lefft said, “I think my main message is that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If someone tells you they’re having a certain experience and you don’t believe that it’s true… you don’t necessarily have the grounds to say that unless you’ve been in that place yourself.”
Pettaway said, “I think the topic itself should be highlighted even more on this campus and other oppressed identities need to be talked about. I really enjoyed that Alexis talked about something she experienced during her four years and something that she found worthwhile.” Editor’s Note: Avery Jonas ’16 is a Managing Editor for The Phillipian vol. CXXXVIII.